When Background Stories in Video Games are Better than the Actual Story

Heavy Rain

Heavy Rain = Epic Story

There are video games with stories and then there are video games with great stories. I’m told Dynasty Warriors has a story, but lets be honest I have never really payed attention? I do know there are things I always skip between battles. Dynasty Warriors is all about laying waste to large groups or people and cutting a bloody swath through a battlefield while yelling “musou” when you unleash the fury. For most of us the story is not what drives the game in Dynasty Warriors. It’s fun because its so simply delightful in its battles.

Heavy Rain has a great story. Right away you are drawn into a rich deep story wrought with passionate and interesting characters as you attempt to untangle a mystery to save the life of a small boy trapped in a storm drain filling up as it rains. Aside from a few key moments the gameplay isn’t action driven, fast paced, or heart pounding. It is sometimes all that and more but on the whole it’s interesting, unique, but a lot of fraction of a second decisions. Deep down its the rich and well mapped out and executed story that drives this game along.

As I play through Assassins Creed: Brotherhood I find myself dropping everything when I see a broken heart map icon appear. Though Assassins Creed: Brotherhood has a wonderful story that is almost perfect in almost every instance this small icon seems to be consuming all my attention. As a spoiler free description, it’s Ezio’s tale of lost

Resistance 2 - Chimera

This guy loves a good story. Preferably before bed time.

love (hence the broken heart). Why is it that I find myself drawn so heavily into something that can’t even be considered a secondary story? At most its a tertiary optional story that you really don’t have to do if you don’t want to. Originally I wanted to talk about games that had a secondary story that surpassed the main story but as I thought about it my thoughts came down to one game that (to me) had such an amazing story going on outside of the main tale that it stands head and shoulders over any other video game I could think of.

If you are familiar with the tale of Henry Stillman you will most likely be standing up shouting “oh hell yes that was awesome!” If you aren’t let me break it down for you. In the PS3 exclusive Resistance 2 from time to time you would find yourself near a broadcasting radio. Coming over the airwaves or a war torn United States being overrun with Chimera was the voice of Henry Stillman. He’s holding strong in a radio booth watching the world around him die out and be replaced with something alien. Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, lets allow Henry himself to let you know what’s going on:

So here he is stuck in Philadelphia calling out to anyone who can hear him to take care of themselves and stay safe and secure. The first time you hear this you aren’t overwhelmed or really think too much of it. It’s somewhat early in the game and you’re currently amped up to start shooting some gray bug eyed Chimera because frankly…its fun to watch ’em fall.

Henry starts to become more human. You hear the desperation in his voice. This is when you begin to take note that there’s something interesting going on behind the scenes. Most first person shooters aren’t known for their eipc stories. While this isn’t part of the main story or even something you have to listen to it still begins to draw you in.

We often forget there is a world outside of what we have in the targeting reticle in game. Resistance throws this world at us in these radio broadcasts. Philadelphia is still there and has problems of it’s own. It doesn’t have a Nathan Hale taking down Chimera like hot dogs on dollar dog night at the ballpark. There are more lives at steak. Most have been lost like Beverly who apparently enjoyed her vegetables. People who have died horrible painful deaths and people who have yet to experience the horror but are about to…

It’s this one in particular that really got stuck with me. As a fight was raging around me I was getting pissed that I couldn’t listen to the radio. The tale of father and son being overrun by Chimera as one man sat up in a radio booth and watched helplessly. As Chimera attempt to overrun my position I’m huddled near a radio firing and cursing each and every muzzle flash because the accompanying noise just takes away from the radio. I have to know what’s going on. I need to know. I am fully invested in the life of Henry Stillman. I want to kick in his door and show him the way to freedom to help him live on with his life.

Henry becomes even more human to us as he begins to attempt to cope with the new world. Henry does what many people probably would. He drinks. He gets drunk. He gets really, really drunk. Henry admits he doesn’t even know if anyone is out there listening to him. He’s just talking to talk. It’s here that we begin to find ourselves wondering if there in fact is anyone out there listening. Are we the only ones hearing him? Are there others like us out there hearing Henry’s drunken ramblings? I can’t help but wonder what we’ve missed. What else has Henry seen or attempted to do? Has he ever tried to leave the booth?

One of the many questions about Henry have been answered. He did in fact leave for a moment. At this point he must view that booth as his only place of peace and safety. It’s his fortress of solitude where nothing can touch him. We’ve gone through this journey with him. What Henry does outstandingly well is not only give insight into the world crumbling around the player but fully immerse the player into the video game itself. He helps to create a living breathing world around us with full of life and hopes and fears. We don’t just see the normal soldier or short lived experience with an NPC. We really get to know Henry Stillman. We’ve learned about Henry and the kind of person that he is. What’s more is that even though you’re playing as some Chimera infused bad-ass in reality that’s not who we really are. Henry forces us to think what type of person we would be were we to be placed in a situation like Henry. We may call him a coward but if you were safe in a radio booth would you risk life and limb to save someone you didn’t know? Would you take matters into your own hands or would you wait for the inevitable end. Before I leave you with our last known broadcast from Henry let me just encourage you to comment below and let us know what your favorite background or secondary story has been in gaming. Is it good ol’ Henry, or is it something else? And now to find out what happens with Henry Stillman:

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Comments

Posted On
Dec 19, 2010
Posted By
Cyberborn

Greatly enjoyed the article. I never played Resistance 2, mostly cause I hated the first game. But from what I saw the game mostly gave you more of the same. This actually made me want to play it. Not to be a supersoldier who takes on aliens, no, I wanted to play the survival horror game that these tranmissions tell us about.

At the top of my head I want to mention “Lost Odyssey” from Mistwalker studios. In this game you play a man who has lived for a thousand years, but has lost his memory. Through the game you unlock these memories as written stories which you can read. Almost all of them are heartbreakingly good. The game itself is ok, but a lot of these stories were incredible.

Once again, great article. Really enjoyed the read.

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Posted On
Dec 20, 2010
Posted By
Bumbo Bangaroo

This article was definatley a good read. Even if I haven’t played resistance I could enjoy the narration of Henry Stillman, which enforces your chain of thought. And if you enjoy this kind of narration, I can recommend you listen to radio theater and some audio books. Like the War of the Worlds or the audio book WWZ.

My personal favorite background story… Tough nut to crack. I guess I will have to go with Sander Cohen from Bioshock. This storyline raises a lot of questions and speculation. We don’t know much about Sander other than the fact that he is an artist. Much like many other characters in the game, he seems to be a person whose interests has been drawn to their very EXTREMITY. He is a man who has forsaken his humanity for the sake of his artistry.

I will spread the article as best I can.

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